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- There are 10 more chances for NASCAR Cup Series drivers to win the playoffs or get there with points.
- Sunday evening’s Ally 400 at the Nashville Superspeedway (5 p.m., ET) is the first of those ten.
- Dozens of drivers won during the first 16 “regular season” races that helped set the stage for the playoffs.
Is it too early for owners and drivers to start worrying about missing out on NASCAR’s upcoming Cup Series playoffs?
Most will say yes, that’s too early because there are 10 more chances for them to win the playoffs or get there with points.
Sunday evening’s Ally 400 at the Nashville Superspeedway (5 p.m., ET) is the first of those 10. The 1.33-mile concrete track hosted the first race of the Cup Series last year, marking the trophy’s return to Music City after 37 years of rest. (NASCAR ran 42 races between 1958-1984 on the Fairgrounds’ half-mile high-bank racetrack.) Champion Waiting Kyle Larson He drove 264 of last year’s 300 laps to take a victory in 4.335 seconds Relative unknown Ross Chastain.
These weekend activities begin with a one-hour practice at 6:30 p.m. Friday night, followed by qualifying at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday. The Camping World Truck Series has 150 laps, the 200-mile Rackley Roofing 200 Saturday night at 8:00, and the Xfinity Series has 188 laps, the 250-mile Tennessee Lottery 250 Saturday night at 3:30 p.m.
As for the qualifiers…
Dozens of drivers won during the first 16 “regular season” races that helped set the stage for the playoffs. Past series champions and permanent contenders still without wins this year include Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, and Brad Kiselowski. In addition, the regular top 15 runners and occasional contenders Ryan Blaney, Eric Almerola, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Bubba Wallace are also looking to make the 16-driver field.
Blaney is safely inside the Playoff bubble, and standing first among the non-winners, a comfortable 95 points above the cut-off line. Truex Jr. 65 points for the best and Bell plus 28. But Almerola is in a precarious state, only seven points above the top 16 streak. If anyone wins a lower rank than Almerola over the next 10 weekends, Almerola could crash – even temporarily – off the field.
Ironically, his meager points advantage trumps Harvick, his Stewart Haas Racing teammate. They both made it to the playoffs last season and both finished in the top five in the inaugural Nashville race. Declining in points – as well as at some stakes – are his Richard Childress Racing teammates Tyler Riddick (minus 42 points) and Austin Dillon (minus 47 points).
Of this year’s non-winner drivers fighting for their lives in the playoffs, three have Nashville wins at either Xfinity or Camping World. Harvick won Xfinity races in 2006 and 2010, Dillon won the 2011 Truck Series race, and Keselowski won Xfinity races in 2008 and 2010.
Finally… Using the horrific and ironic “If Qualifying Starts Today” line, a field of 16 drivers would look like this: two-time winners William Byron, Ross Chastain, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano, plus one-time winners Alex Bowman, Chase Briscoe, Kurt Bosch, Kyle Busch, Austin Sendrick, Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, and Danielle Suarez.
Based on today’s points, the winless 2022 drivers Eric Almerola, Christopher Bale, Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr will take to the field as well.
The 26th and final race of the regular season is August 27 in Daytona Beach. The races in the first four-round qualifying round are September 4th in Darlington, September 11th in Kansas City, and September 17th in Bristol. Once the field is cut from 16 contenders to 12, the second round continues September 25 in Fort Worth, October 2 in Talladega, and October 9 in Charlotte.
Now, with eight survivors left, the third round will take place in Las Vegas on October 16, at Homestead on October 23, and then Martinsville on October 30. The Cup Series Championship will be decided by the highest-grossing final among the last four teams on the November 6 season finale in Phoenix.
And in a trend defying the odds, every series champion since 2014—Larson, Elliott, Kyle Busch (twice), Lugano, Truex Jr., Jimmy Johnson and Harvick—has won the trophy by winning the last race, six times at Homestead, the last two in Phoenix.
It’s not exactly a “Super Bowl of Racing,” but it’s the closest we’ll get to it.
NASCAR cut-off ranking
Top 16 making playoffs. Wins take priority over points. If 16 different drivers do not win regular season races, the remaining spots will be awarded in order of points.
- Ross Chastain 520 (2)
- Joey Lugano 506 (2)
- William Byron 466 (2)
- Denny Hamlin 325 (2)
- Chase Elliott 536 (1)
- Kyle Bush 513 (1)
- Kyle Larson 476 (1)
- Alex Bowman 460 (1)
- Chase Brisco 386 (1)
- Daniel Suarez 366 (1)
- Austin Sendrick 362 (1)
- Kurt Bosch 355 (1)
- Ryan Blaney 511 (0)
- Martin Truex Jr 481 (0)
- Christopher Bell 444 (0)
- Eric Almerola 423 (S)
- Kevin Harvick 416 (Q)
- Tyler Riddick 381[0)[0)
- Austin Dillon 376 (0)
- Eric Jones 368 (0)
- Michael McDowell 330 (0)
- Chris Bucher 318 (0)
- Justin Haley 310 (0)
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 288 (0)
- Bubba Wallace 284 (0)
- Ty Dillon 270 (0)
- Cool Custer 262 (0)
- Harrison Burton 241 (0)
- Todd Gilliland 239 (0)
- Brad Keselowski 227 (0)
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